A Face in the Crowd (1957)

A Face in the Crowda-face-in-the-crowd-1957-poster-artwork-walter-matthau-patricia-neal-howard-smith
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Budd Schulberg
1957/USA
Newtown Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Marcia Jeffries: You put your whole self into that laugh, don’t you?

Lonesome Rhodes: Marcia, I put my whole self into everything I do.

This is must-see viewing during any U.S. political campaign but is fantastic any time.

Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) has just graduated from Swarthmore and is aiming to take her uncle’s Arkansas radio station to new heights.  She has started a morning program called “A Face in the Crowd” in which she does man-in-the-street interviews.  This particular Fourth of July day she decides to do her program from the local jail.  The inmates aren’t too eager to participate.  Finally, the sheriff wakes up a guitar-playing drunk and offers to let him out the next day if he will perform.  Taking the bait, the inmate (Andy Griffith) sings and joshes on the radio.  Marcia dubs him Lonesome Rhodes and recognizes his charisma and talent.  The station gives him his own show.  Lonesome sets about attempting to seduce the reluctant Marcia.

Lonesome swiftly builds quite a following with his down-home humor and straight talk.  He is uncontrollable however and throws out his advertising copy, frequently belittling the sponsor.  Despite this, ratings and sales of the sponsored products continue to rise until Lonesome makes another smash hit on TV in Memphis.  He begins to realize he has his audiences in the palm of his hand.  Marcia surrenders.

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Lonesome’s show moves on to New York where he becomes much sought-after as an advertising and campaign consultant.  His vices and ego start spinning out of control.  With Walter Matthau as a disillusioned scriptwriter, Lee Remick as a sexy teenaged baton twirler, and Anthony Franciosa as an office boy turned agent.

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I love this scathing expose of mass media.  You can’t help wondering what some of our candidates talk about when the cameras and microphones are turned off.

The performances, particularly by Griffith and Neal, are perfection.  Griffith was never seen like this before or since and is a positive revelation.  He can actually be quite sexy and he has the hypocrite nailed.  Apparently, the man himself was more like his TV persona, however.  I’ve never seen Neal give a bad performance and here, coming off a 4-year break from acting and nervous breakdown, she is particularly vulnerable and affecting. Highly recommended.

Andy Griffith, Lee Remick, and Anthony Franciosa made their film debuts in A Face in the Crowd.

Trailer

2 thoughts on “A Face in the Crowd (1957)

  1. It’s funny, since Andy Griffiths became such a voice and face of compassion, down-home values, and goddness of small-town America that his first prominent role was as someone who cashes is on that in the most cynical way possible.

    Hell of a movie shamefully forgotten by most people.

    • I just watched the documentary on the DVD where Griffith (among others) was interviewed. He talked about how Kazan got the performance from him. He said that later people criticized Kazan’s tactics but he said that was what he wanted. It sounded like it was a really good experience for him.

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